I’ve received a couple of books over the past few weeks that I’ve been meaning to review, but going to Florida pushed everything back — not that I’m complaining, of course. After all: Spring Training! But let’s get into the first of the pair of the reviews. Then, hopefully, people will send me more free books in the future. Yes, I am shameless like that, but I also sort of like writing book reviews. Today’s book: The Amazin’ Avenue Annual 2011.
Just as mice spontaneously generate from dusty piles of rags, creativity similarly springs forth from the fans of bad sports teams. While the winners can relax, content in the assurance of success, the losers are forced to ask the difficult questions that arise from failure: What went wrong? How could it have been done better? Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse? And why do teams continue to willfully employ Jeff Francoeur? It is through this process of reevaluation that one hopes to reemerge, if not necessarily better, at least a little wiser. Failure is valuable, if only because it can be examined.
Unfortunately, until this past offseason, the Mets generally avoided this type of self-reflection, instead opting to once again run full speed into the glass door, because, Hey, it sure looks like there’s nothing to stop us this time. This left fans to their own devices to find order in the chaos that is Mets baseball. Thus, the emergence of Amazin’ Avenue, the website, and then Amazin’ Avenue, the Annual: Testament to a belief that the answers to difficult questions, albeit generally ones about baseball, can be found in facts.
One concept often utilized by the saber-types of Amazin’ Avenue — as well as myself — is the concept of a replacement level player. This supposed replacement level player is thought of as a Quad-A player, someone freely available on the waiver wire, generally the lowest level of talent found in the major leagues — think Willie Bloomquist, a player just good enough to play major league baseball, but only barely. Replacement level players are the players you want to avoid spending on, as you can always find another similarly talented fill-in floating around for the minimum.
One can expand that concept to include the idea of replacement level baseball annuals. Throw together some stats, write a little about a handful of prospects, plaster a shiny picture of a star player on the cover, and boom: replacement level annual. Maybe you might buy one in the supermarket checkout line, but ideally you want to spring for an annual better than replacement level.
The Amazin Avenue Annual 2011 is far better than a replacement level annual. It has an excellent VORA (value over replacement annual). Some of that comes from the star power present in this year’s edition: I’ll admit that I first read Ken Davidoff’s foreword, then immediately skipped ahead to Joe Posnanski’s essay on Carlos Beltran and Will Leitch’s where-are-they-now look at the 2006 Mets. But the comparatively less-famous names from the Mets’ blogosphere more than hold their own with the big boys. James Kannengieser’s “Glovotage,” detailing an elaborate conspiracy theory involving Tom Glavine and the Braves, is a highlight, as is “The Mets Legacy Initiative,” a brainstorm by Faith and Fear in Flushing’s blogging duo. Interviews include Sam Page’s conversation with R.A. Dickey and Eric Simon’s chat with The Star-Ledger’s Andy McCullough. There are also pages of player profiles, both minors and majors.
Not everything is perfect, of course. I skimmed from time to time, but as much might be expected in a work this varied. Generally, these skipped parts contained information I already knew; a more casual fan might find those sections more worthwhile, but writing about the Mets myself, I’m generally familiar with their players already. The flip side to that would be that the parts I found intriguing might go beyond the interest level of a more casual fan — the level of accessibility can shift drastically from article to article. I suppose in an ideal book of this type, everyone would find every piece worth reading, though I can’t think of that ever being the actual case.
But the parts that worked for me far outnumber those that didn’t, and made the Amazin’ Avenue Annual a worthwhile experience overall. You may not love everything, but you’ll certainly love more than enough things. If you’re a fan of the Mets, you won’t be disappointed.
More info on The Amazin’ Avenue Annual 2011 can be found here.